Editor’s note: Kita Roberts is the carnivorous food blogger behind Girl Carnivore and Pass the Sushi, as well as a travel addict and photographer. From her kitchen table to Michelin restaurants to street food in Cambodia and back again, Kita is an all-star food photographer under any circumstance. She shared her top tips with us for better food photos, accompanied by some of her brilliant — and mouth-watering — images.

1

Do your research

You have to consider their location, the time of day, and how busy it will be. Restaurants with character — whether that be a hole-in-the-wall or a five-star hotel — will help you make great shots time and time again. You will thrive off the atmosphere; it will inspire you and help you get the shot you're looking for. Staff that are welcoming, some window light, and a tabletop you like (whether diner-style, chopsticks, or white table linen) will all also help you achieve a great shot.

2

Go early

Get there early in the day for natural light (if possible), and grab a seat by the window if there is one. If no windows are available, take a moment to look around and see what the lighting situation is, and ask for a chair under or near a great light source. If you're at a food cart or food stall, look for any tables or benches nearby where you can set up at — find something you can stage a photo on or around. Regardless of windows and tables, if there's no light left, the shot will be substantially more difficult and probably not have the look you're going for.

3

Do not use your flash

At least, not the one on your camera. The flash, at least as wielded by an amateur, is the death of anything remotely appetizing or appealing. Always try to use as much natural light as the situation allows. If it's after dark, you'll need to get under a light that doesn't cast a strange colour onto the food.

4

Restrain yourself

A hazard of the job is getting too hungry to work clearly. Nosh some bread or anything free while you wait, but be prepared to compose (both yourself and the food) before digging in.

5

Consider the details

Make sure to capture the details that rounded out your meal — the drinks, appetizers, etc. — and not just the main dish. Consider the tabletop, the napkins, the utensils, any decorations (i.e. Christmas lights, candles, flowers). You can shoot these when your meal arrives, as a scene, but you can also shoot these before and after the main event if you're looking to make a multi-image story about the experience rather than one single photo.

6

Use what you have

Stand a menu up or have your dining partner hold up a large white napkin to act as a bounce for your image. Don’t feel weird or worry about standing out — be comfortable and confident in your work.

7

Compose

When your food comes out, try to compose your shot so that you can show the whole dish, highlighting the feature. Use a wide aperture to soften the background and foreground and draw your eye straight to whatever the star of the show is (but not so low that nothing looks in focus and / or you misfocus completely!)

8

Compose again

Do several compositions to ensure you have variety — eye level, from above, horizontal, close, wide, different backgrounds. Vary your angles. For dining out, I love overhead shots. I simply stand and hold my camera over the table, and take a downward shot. Food, coasters, hands, all of it. That’s a real table. Then I will sit back down and get a detailed shot of the highlighted dish.

9

Watch the background

Keep a clean background by using a low aperture, but don't leave the background totally empty. I love including drinks and utensils in shots to give more of a feeling of a real table, instead of just a staged scene. Watch for other people's arms, servers' legs, random plants, or anything else in the background that takes away from the mood or is distracting / accidental. You may have to wait for the right moment when the servers / arms / legs / etc. are out of the frame. Remember tip #4?

10

Don’t play with your food

Don’t add more garnish or rearrange too much. Every plate has character and doesn’t need to be perfect. If you think too hard about how the syrup is falling off your pancakes, you're going to give the photo a sense of inauthenticity. A few touches here and there are alright, an interaction such as pouring sauce or a hand reaching can work well, but avoid a sense of staging. Let the plate have character.

11

Bump up that ISO

It’s usually not ideal lighting in restaurant settings — I turn my ISO as high as I can so that I get brighter shots. Consider the make and model of your camera and at what point the noise of the ISO will be noticeable — don't go too high. Of course, ensure your aperture is nice and wide so that you're collecting extra light that way before turning to ISO. Along with this, keep an eye on your shutter speed or else you won't have sharp shots.

12

Engage with the staff

Get stories, take names, talk to the chef. Yes, you should even do this with street food, at food trucks, etc. Do your best to break the language barrier or bring a friend / translator who can help you out. Get action shots. People everywhere love it when you take an interest in them and their work, and they're more open to being photographed after you have spent a few moments warming them up. Get shots of the people, the building, the decorations, the action of cooking — not just the food.

13

Take note

Make notes on the food, the flavors, the atmosphere and character of the restaurant, your service and overall experience. That way, when reviewing the images later, you can easily recall all the information. Also, take a photo of the menu if there is one, even when traveling — you can use an online translator to find out what you just ate. If there's no menu, you can ask the chef or staff to write it down and translate that later.

14

Don't over edit

Don’t have a heavy hand in processing. I usually bump up the curve levels a bit if it was dark or bright, and I do spend a little time sharpening my dish, but nothing too heavy. Let the food speak for itself! Good light, good food, a few of the above tips, and you'll be shooting brilliant food photos, wherever you are, in no time.

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